Sermon Seeds: Power
Sunday, February 13, 2022
Sixth Sunday after Epiphany Year C
(Liturgical Color: Green)
1 Corinthians 15:12-20
Grace Emerged (Click here for the series overview.)
By Cheryl Lindsay
Have you ever played the game “telephone”? I confess I have never been good at it. It starts by one person relaying a brief story to another and the next person passes the same story, as it was told to them, to the next person. On it goes through several people until it reaches the last person. The last person shares the story they now hold with the entire group. The first person shares the original. Invariably, the story morphs significantly, and it can become an interesting and embarrassing exercise to find out where the breakdown in the story takes place. Did it happen gradually with a detail being altered here and there? Or, did someone take the story and radically change it. I tend to listen broadly to stories, especially the first time I hear them. The details don’t become important to me until I get the big picture in view. That’s why I’m not good at this game; it’s all about capturing and memorizing the details that support the story even if you don’t grasp the meaning and import of the story itself.
At times, comparing the same event as narrated by different biblical authors can resemble unpacking the alterations that take place in a game of “telephone.” Both Matthew and Luke present accounts of Jesus’ memorable sermon. In Matthew, that is the Sermon on the Mount. It is the more extensive version and it is clearly directed at the large crowd that has gathered to hear Jesus. Luke’s version also includes a crowd but also focuses substantially on the disciples who constituted the crowd and they not only want to hear from Jesus, they want to be touched by Jesus, healed by Jesus, and relieved by Jesus. In Luke’s account, there is no mountain. Jesus stands and delivers the Sermon on the Plains. The words he utters, however, convey a similar meaning, not only in the details, but in their deeper significance as casting a vision of the kindom of God.
Luke begins with Jesus coming down and taking his position on the same level as his disciples. This account does not reflect a preacher exalted in an elevated pulpit or mountain, but a wise companion speaking among those attracted to the message, ministry, and hope that Jesus provides. Luke’s intentions and audience are different from Matthew’s; that can explain the differences in presentation and emphasis. Luke’s Jesus is Redeemer as much as Messiah. Luke’s Jesus fulfills prophecy, but not as a conquering sovereign. Just as the wise persons approach Jesus with lavish and precious gifts upon his entry into the world in Matthew’s gospel, the shepherds greet Jesus after his birth. Their offering is their witness to the world that Christ is now in it. Matthew’s genealogy emphasizes the connection to the Davidic dynasty; Luke’s highlights that Jesus is the Son of (Hu)man, the new “adam” (human being), who comes not to a singular people but to all creation as Restorer and Re-Creator. Luke emphasizes the humility of Jesus, both in compassion and circumstances.
The birth narrative in Luke is profoundly affected by the belief that Jesus was born in poverty. The location of his birth in a stable, the offering of a dove in the Temple, and the presence of the shepherds all point to this. Without a doubt Luke intended to show how Jesus fulfilled the prophecy of Zechariah 9:9 “Behold your king comes, lowly” (poor or in Hebrew Oni], and riding upon an ass the foal of an ass. Jesus, the poor king is a feature of Luke’s christology….Jesus was perhaps an artisan, a carpenter, but his youth in Nazareth suggests that he was not a member of the wealthy artisan guilds. We are left with the impression that Jesus knew and experienced poverty at first hand and that he well understood the implications of Roman oppression. Consistently he preaches against materialism and in support of the protection of the poor and other marginalized individuals. Thus Jesus picks up the Old Testament tradition of God as the Go-el (“Protector”) of that group of people. In turn, by associating with the debris of society, Jesus assumes the mantle of the protector of the weak and powerless. As their Go-el he will also judge them for their sins, but that action, as with God in the Old Testament, does not affect his protective role. The most interesting example of this is the ancient story of Jesus and the woman accused of adultery. We note the order. First her protection from her would be executioners and then the instruction to “go and sin no more”. Jesus’ relationship with the poor remains that of the redemptive kinsman.William Domeris
Like in Matthew, Luke’s account of Jesus’ sermon begins with the Beatitudes. It is a radical vision of beloved community and the kindom of God. Jesus depicts both future promise and present reality as his series of “blessings” and “woes” repudiates conventional wisdom–then and now. Jesus, born into impoverished circumstances can speak from “a level place” with the people that he proclaims blessed. That proclamation does not manifest as anticipation of a future reward as a consolation for current suffering. The blessing exists and continues in the present, in the now, in the already-not yet.
Biblical wisdom long resisted becoming merely a theodicy for the social status quo. In Luke 6, Jesus’ teaching of wisdom is presented in terms which are highly familiar in Jewish wisdom but radically challenging to the conventional wisdom of every age. His teaching is neither a more lofty wisdom which simply elevates moralism to a new level of demand nor an anti-wisdom which undermines all conventional prudence. Yet here the Messiah discloses unexpected signs of the favor and benefits of God’s dominion for the faithful, and he turns the argument from prosperity against those who have thereby felt assured of the blessing of heaven. Yet more specifically, Jesus the Messiah assures his disciples that their suffering and apparent lack of benefits which others regard as signs of God’s rejection are rather indications of their participation in God’s reign which is at odds with the ways of the world in the present time.David L.Tiede
It’s important to note that while significant differences exist between the accounts of Matthew and Luke, we need both. They aren’t in conflict; they show us a more complete story. Grace, in the person of Jesus Christ, emerges incarnationally. A common expression from the Black Church affirms that God “sits high, but looks low.” In placing these two narratives together, we see a portrait of a Redeemer who stands above (on the mountain) and stands among (on the plains). Yet, the message and the meaning are essentially the same. The kindom of God is not what they expect and will enact a profound departure from the empire in which the people have lived. The words challenge their experience and their assumptions as they encourage a reorientation toward God’s abundance, purposes, and sovereign rule:
Jesus’ sermon has fueled discussions about the relationship of the indicative (performative declarations of God’s blessing) and the imperative (commands). But the proclamation is nothing other than life under God’s commonwealth in which relationships with God are integral to relationships with others—two dimensions that are hardly separate.Robert L. Brawley
In Jesus, the new prototype of humanness, the divine and the human intersect. So does declaration and command. Jesus proclaims the reality of God’s favor and instructs how to be as a participant in God’s favor. Jesus blesses the disciples with a new vision at the same time he calls them to be visionaries. The people come with real needs in the here and now; Jesus meets them and addresses them. But, they also live in a world corrupted and removed from God’s will and purpose for creation, and Jesus calls them into a life of redemption. The crowd can’t get close enough; they are attracted to him as if they are magnetized. Of course, in a sense they are…magnetized by power.
This power differs from the rule of the Roman Empire or even the hierarchy in their faith communities. This power comes and stands level with them. This power transmits the power of heaven on earth. This power adopts a position of poverty to transform notions of sovereignty from privilege to compassion. This power cautions those flush with contemporary cultural ideals of wealth and privilege that the kindom of God operates from a different system. This power does not lord over but lives with, among, and for those invited to be subject to a different order of power, community, and relationships. This power blesses those perceived to be powerless by acknowledging their belovedness, value, and agency. This power is doing the leveling necessary so that it may be “on earth as it is in heaven.”
The implications of this for the Christian today are clear. Without the protection of the Go-el, the poor would be constantly at the mercy of the rich and unscrupulous. Christians are to work for structures in society which will perform the same protective task. At times they may even find themselves in the position of a protector or defender of the poor, nevertheless that function remains primarily the responsibility of God. Moreover that function exists quite independently of his role in bringing eschatological salvation. In the same way Christians may pray for God’s care or protection in particular danger, without connecting that with their hope of eschatological salvation. The action of God in defense of the poor is a recurrent feature of present and ancient history. The hope of the poor will not be disappointed.William Domeris
To participate in the kindom today is essentially the same as then–to reach out toward the power flowing from Jesus Christ. To connect to the source, plug in, and charge up ourselves so that we can be fully equipped and empowered disciples–protectors, defenders, and agents of hope and healing in the world.
Voices of People of African Descent:
The 33rd General Synod adopted a Resolution to Recognize the United Nations International Decade for People of African Descent (2015-2024). As part of its implementation, Sermon and Weekly Seeds offers Reflection from Voices of People of African Descent related to the season or overall theme for additional consideration in sermon preparation and for individual and congregational study.
There was a finished silence after that so that for the first time they could hear the wind picking at the pine trees. It made Pheoby think of Sam waiting for her and getting fretful. It made Janie think about that room upstairs—her bedroom. Pheoby hugged Janie real hard and cut the darkness in flight. Soon everything around downstairs was shut and fastened. Janie mounted the stairs with her lamp. The light in her hand was like a spark of sun-stuff washing her face in fire. Her shadow behind fell black and headlong down the stairs. Now, in her room, the place tasted fresh again. The wind through the open windows had broomed out all the fetid feeling of absence and nothingness. She closed in and sat down. Combing road-dust out of her hair. Thinking. The day of the gun, and the bloody body, and the courthouse came and commenced to sing a sobbing sigh out of every corner in the room; out of each and every chair and thing. Commenced to sing, commenced to sob and sigh, singing and sobbing. Then Tea Cake came prancing around her where she was and the song of the sigh flew out of the window and lit in the top of the pine trees. Tea Cake, with the sun for a shawl. Of course he wasn’t dead. He could never be dead until she herself had finished feeling and thinking. The kiss of his memory made pictures of love and light against the wall. Here was peace. She pulled in her horizon like a great fish-net. Pulled it from around the waist of the world and draped it over her shoulder. So much of life in its meshes! She called in her soul to come and see.
–Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God
For further reflection:
“They joined hands.
So the world ended.
And the next one began.” ― Sarah J. Maas
“Knowledge is power. Power to do evil…or power to do good. Power itself is not evil. So knowledge itself is not evil.” ― Veronica Roth
“Character is power.” –Booker T. Washington
Suggested Congregational Response to the Reflection:
Play a game of telephone in the congregation in-person or online (through chat or comments). Transform the game by inviting each participant to intentionally change at least one word as they spread the message to the next. Being with a blessing, such as “Blessed are you when you pray for the needs of the world.” Rather than whispering them to one another, these blessings may be written down and then collected in a basket and placed near any symbol of generosity and given such as a traditional offering basket. Be sure to include those blessings shared online.
Brawley, Robert L. “Luke.” Gale A. Yee. Fortress Commentary on the Bible: Two Volume Set. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2014.
Domeris, William. “Biblical Perspectives on the Poor.” Journal of Theology for Southern Africa 57 (December 1986): 57–61.
Tiede, David L. “Luke 6:17-26.” Interpretation 40, no. 1 (January 1986): 63–68.
A Bible study version of this reflection is at Weekly Seeds.
1 Corinthians 15:12-20
5 Thus says the LORD:
Cursed are those who trust in mere mortals
and make mere flesh their strength,
whose hearts turn away from the LORD.
6 They shall be like a shrub in the desert,
and shall not see when relief comes.
They shall live in the parched places of the wilderness,
in an uninhabited salt land.
7 Blessed are those who trust in the LORD,
whose trust is the LORD.
8 They shall be like a tree planted by water,
sending out its roots by the stream.
It shall not fear when heat comes,
and its leaves shall stay green;
in the year of drought it is not anxious,
and it does not cease to bear fruit.
9 The heart is devious above all else;
it is perverse—
who can understand it?
10 I the LORD test the mind
and search the heart,
to give to all according to their ways,
according to the fruit of their doings.
1 Happy are those
who do not follow the advice of the wicked,
or take the path that sinners tread,
or sit in the seat of scoffers;
2 but their delight is in the law of the LORD,
and on his law they meditate day and night.
3 They are like trees
planted by streams of water,
which yield their fruit in its season,
and their leaves do not wither.
In all that they do, they prosper.
4 The wicked are not so,
but are like chaff that the wind drives away.
5 Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
6 for the LORD watches over the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked will perish.
1 Corinthians 15:12–20
12 Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; 14 and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain. 15 We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified of God that he raised Christ—whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised. 17 If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have died in Christ have perished. 19 If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.
20 But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died.
17 He came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea, Jerusalem, and the coast of Tyre and Sidon. 18 They had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. 19 And all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them.
20 Then he looked up at his disciples and said:
“Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.
21 “Blessed are you who are hungry now,
for you will be filled.
“Blessed are you who weep now,
for you will laugh.
22 “Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. 23 Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.
24 “But woe to you who are rich,
for you have received your consolation.
25 “Woe to you who are full now,
for you will be hungry.
“Woe to you who are laughing now,
for you will mourn and weep.
26 “Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.